I joined a post-graduation college at Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh in 1969. During the year, I developed friendship with one Mr Pande. One day during the roll call, the teacher called him by his full name, Banke Bihari Pande. This upset him for he had thought that the disclosure of his full name might make him the butt of jokes. Similarly, several ordinary name holders prefer to retain only their initials to avoid mockery. Telu Ram, Shaktu Mal and Rulda Ram prefer to be known as TR, SM and RR.
Once we decided to call all classmates by their surnames. When we asked the first one, hesitatingly he disclosed his surname as Chepru. We nipped the idea in the bud, for Chepru could become a target of ridicule.
William Shakespeare said, "What's in a name?" But traditionally every child is to be formally baptised. Pundits are consulted to select the propitious alphabet according to the exact time of birth. Yet many are casual about names. Long ago, in villages days of birth were adopted as names such as Mangal for Tuesday and Somi for Monday. Deeply religious people named boys as Ram, Ganesh or Mahavir and girls as Sita, Devki, Guran Ditti (given by God) or Ram Katori.
Dismayed by the birth of many daughters, a particular one is given the prophetic name Bohti (many) to guarantee the end of the girl trail and traumatised by frequent deaths of sons, a particular one is given a humble name such as Godhar Mal, Keeru Ram or Chiunti Lal as a crude formula to stall death's strides. Good luck and affluence also necessitate change of the name. Poor Budhu becomes Budh Ram once he is favoured by Mammon.
Post marriage, change of the bride's name by her in-laws is also in prevalence. Even names of would-be brides are changed, if it is impossible to fix an auspicious day for marriage. Names are also changed after a long illness or due to overcome a jinx.
Names, good or bad, lead to nicknames. Writer William Hazlitt once remarked, "A nickname is the heaviest stone that the devil can throw at a man." Generally, people have at least one nickname. Not related to the person's proper name, these are a trivial word or a diminutive such as Bablu, Dabbu, Chimpu or Gudia. Sometimes, these diminutives become almost proverbial such as Sikki and Annu for Sikander and Anuradha.
Politicians retain the names of their villages as nicknames such as Badal, Chautala or Gharuan. Literary persons adopt certain pseudonyms such as Ghalib, Nirala or Gulzar. A fair-skinned boy is nicknamed Angrez and dark-complexioned one Kagga (crow) or Kalia. A policeman is usually nicknamed Mama (mother's brother).
Names seldom tickle or amuse, but nicknames hit like bombshells. None can escape the barrage. Primarily, hapless targets of nicknames must possess a thick skin, for usually, cut to the quick, they remonstrate. Nicknames may be an evil, but there is no antidote or panacea for them. So, the best way out is to never mind the projectile, just to smile and let it pass, for such stones can never determine one's fate.